Knowledge of the processes that control East African rainfall is essential for the development of seasonal forecasting systems, which may mitigate the effects of flood and drought. This study uses observational data to unravel the relationship between the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and rainy autumns in East Africa. Analysis of sea–surface temperature data shows that strong East African rainfall is associated with warming in the Pacific and Western Indian Oceans and cooling in the Eastern Indian Ocean. The resemblance of this pattern to that which develops during IOD events implies a link between the IOD and strong East African rainfall. Further investigation suggests that the observed teleconnection between East African rainfall and ENSO is a manifestation of a link between ENSO and the IOD.